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A Level English Language Starters: Language & Gender

Beth Kemp | Monday April 08, 2013

Categories: Gender, Gender Resources

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  • A Level English Language Starters: Frameworks & Analysis
  • A Level English Language Starters: Accent & Dialect
  • A Level English Language Starters: Language Change
  • A Level English Language Starters: Mode & Technology
  • A Level English Language Starters: Child Language Acquisition
  • A Level English Language Starters: Language & Power

Gender, Media Representation and Power

This fairly old ‘riddle’ is a brilliant starter for the topic of gender, especially if students are not aware that the lesson will be focused on gender, so that they are not thinking along those lines already.  It’s my favourite way to start a unit of work on gender!

Some students will probably know the answer.  I find they can be fairly easily encouraged to keep it to themselves so as not to spoil the fun.  It works best projected on the board, with students writing down their answers secretly onto mini whiteboards. There are many versions; here’s one for each gender:

A plumber is driving his son to a football match, but on the way they are involved in a terrible car crash.  The plumber is killed outright, but his son is critically injured and rushed to hospital.  The surgeon enters the operating theatre, takes one look at the boy and says “I can’t operate on this boy - he’s my son.”  How is this possible?

A hairdresser is driving her daughter to a riding lesson, but on the way they are involved in a terrible car crash.  The hairdresser is killed outright, but her daughter is critically injured and rushed to hospital.  A nurse enters the operating theatre, takes one look at the girl and says “I can’t operate on this girl - she’s my daughter.”  How is this possible?

In each case, the riddle depends on gendered assumptions which make it difficult for many people to see that the surgeon is a woman (and therefore the boy’s mother) or the nurse is a man (and therefore the girl’s father).  Many students will make guesses relating to step parents, gay...


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